Although Sacramento is usually considered to be a hotbed of human trafficking activity, it was San Francisco that appeared recently in the news when a 27-year-old man (name withheld to protect the accused) was arrested for his part in the rape and trafficking of several minors in the Bay area. The accused pled not guilty to 16 different charges of felony sex crimes related to minors. According to local law enforcement officials, his victims were two young girls, one, age 14 and the other aged 16 years. Included in the charged are 2 counts of human trafficking and 10 counts of the rape of a minor child.
The most immediate question concerning this case is the difference between misdemeanor rape of a minor and a felony charge of the same. California Penal Code 261.5 defines the rape of a minor child as unlawful sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 18. If the person who is allegedly raped is under the age of 18 and the perpetrator is less than 3 years older (or younger), then this violation of the law is normally considered a misdemeanor and conviction will likely mean only 1 year in county jail. However, a felony charge of the same kind is more than likely to end in a much harsher sentence, 15 years to life. Technically, however, this law is a ‘wobbler,’ meaning that it is up to prosecutors to determine whether or not the violation is serious enough to be considered a felony, or on the other hand, whether it is to be treated as a misdemeanor.